Background: Public health includes policy, practice and research but to sufficiently connect academic research, practice and public health policy appears to be difficult. Collaboration between policy, practice and research is imperative to obtaining more solid evidence in public health. However, the three domains do not easily work together because they emanate from three more or less independent 'niches'.
Work cycles of each niche have the same successive steps: problem recognition, approach formulation, implementation, and evaluation, but are differently worked out. So far, the research has focused on agenda-setting which belongs to the first step, as expressed by Kingdon, and on the use of academic knowledge in policy makers' decision-making processes which belongs to the fourth step, as elaborated by Weiss. In addition, there are more steps in the policy-making process where exchange is needed.
Method: A qualitative descriptive research was conducted by literature search. We analyzed the four steps of the policy, practice and research work cycles. Next, we interpreted the main conflicting aspects as disconnections for each step.
Results: There are some conspicuous differences that strengthen the niche character of each domain and hamper integration and collaboration. Disconnections ranged from formulating priorities in problem statements to power roles, appraisal of evidence, work attitudes, work pace, transparency of goals, evaluation and continuation strategies and public accountability. Creating awareness of these disconnections may result in more compatibility between researchers, policy makers and practitioners.
Conclusion: We provide an analysis that can be used by public health services-related researchers, practitioners and policy makers to be aware of the risk for disconnections. A synthesis of the social, practical and scientific relevance of public health problems should be the starting point for a dialogue that seeks to establish a joint approach. To overcome the above mentioned disconnections, face-to-face encounters consistently emerge as the most efficient way to transfer knowledge, achieve higher quality and acknowledge mutual dependence. We recommend practice and policy based research networks to establish strong links between researchers, policy makers and practitioners to improve public health.